Sunday, 28 June 2015

Can't make it to church? 28 June 2015

Today is taken up with images of return from conflict and an encounter between Jesus, a woman who shouldn't be there and a crowd. This is the weekend in the UK where we celebrate our Armed Force's and the glimpse of triumphant return is tainted in the Old Testament by the loss of a comrade and brother. Jonathan has fallen and the the reality of comradeship and the fact that there is a bond that transcend the word 'love'. There are some who would portray the relationship as something sexual but that would be to cheapen it - for the love between those who take up arms is something so much more than that!

I remember the faces and names of those who have fallen, those with whom I have stood as a brother-in-arms and even now there is a pain, a moment of loss which revisits me and makes dust appear in the room to affect my eyes. This is the reality of those who march away.

The second image of conflict comes in the 1 Corinthians passage with Paul who, having tried to correct errors is now accused of possessing them himself and thus compares himself with one who having been defeated is ridiculed by those cheering on the triumphal entry. The image below shows one such happening: The victorious leader leading in the parade of victorious soldiers, the spoils of war and the defeated enemy. All that is needed is applause, cheering and ridicule for the defeated (followed by slavery or death) just like that shown in the image a little further down.

A key word here, for me, is 'spectacle' ('theatron') - the word from whence 'theatre; comes - because Paul likens his being mocked and made a spectacle of to this moment. It is the time when those who think themselves in possession of something special in terms of intellect and faith hit out against the apostle who delivered them in a spiritual rebirth. 

What we should remember is the the victorious leader would, as soon as the chariot stops and the crowds begin to subside, have had the words 'Sic transit gloria mundi’ (the things of this world pass away) whispered in their ears.

The message is clear: Enjoy today for it might be your last - tomorrow you could be dead!

But what of those who think by virtue of their reasoning and their faith (in what I have to ask, for surely faith in a skewed Gospel is destined to fall and to lead those who believe in it to fail? Those who boast of all that those who opposed Paul set their lives not on the foundation of Jesus, the Christ, but on something that will fail to offer the support needed.

Here we have envy in full measure opposing those called to be apostles and as elsewhere we read how Paul took nothing from people and was no burden to them - unlike some of the puffed up TV ‘apostles of today’ perhaps!

Here we have those who thought themselves wise had elevated themselves - they had a faith and were clever in their arguments - they thought they were a cut above the rest (including Paul) and beyond question. So Paul being Paul challenges them using him and Apollos as an example. (If you don’t remember the ‘I am of Paul, I am of Apollos’ bit take a look at the previous chapter some time) and a foil for conversation regarding factions: For unity is a true test of Church (isn't it?).

He and Apollos weren’t enemies - Paul uses the two of them to mirror the faction who lined up behind them - there wasn’t a race to see who had the most converts or gifts or stuff. In fact the only boasting they could have was not about leaders or gifts and the like - the only boast is in Him who gives the gifts and talents and ministries: God! But these Corinthians think they’ve made it all theirs - they know it all and have made it. Instead of applauding their apostle he’s like a prisoner whose now going to be belittled and humiliated by those he leads - a warning for all who seek public ministry in the Church perhaps?

You’re wise and I’m a fool - you’re strong and I’m weak, your applauded and we’re nothings! Have they forgotten the things he’s suffered for the Gospel with them? Have they taken up their cross and followed Jesus - for he, Paul, has. So he responds in what I think is a Christlike manner - no swearing or attacking or cursing them or portraying them as fools - but of course, ‘he uses sarcasm’ (and I like sarcasm!).

'I Wish you’d been the believers you think you are - Would have been nice to have some peers!

Paul didn’t need to pull rank for like someone who has a commission - that says it all for them - and he carries the commission of Jesus, the Christ!  

‘You’ve had thousands of instructor / baby-sitters, but you’ve got but one father!’ 

Paul is the spiritual father and the ‘ten thousand instructors’, the baby sitters (the pedagogoi’) - hired people to take the boys to school and keep them out of trouble; isn’t that how many see church leaders today?

How many seem to think that the role of the leader is to try and keep the Church under control with the warning ‘wait until The Father gets home’ or better still, ‘Wait ‘til Jesus comes back!’ 

So who are you? 

Who do you follow and who do you thank for the gifts and callings and abilities you have?

How do you lead others: What sort of leader are you, or would make? Are you the puffed up, wise and powerful type or are you like Jesus, the Christ, in the way that you live and think and act?

And a footnote to all this: 
It’s interesting but whenever I’ve met an ‘apostle’ I’ve encountered someone who was other-worldly and, to be honest, a bit ‘up themselves’ (perhaps because everyone else treated then like they were royalty!) so Paul’s image of them being paraded like the losing side in a conflict is interesting - especially in the light of today’s world political scene. Apostles are like caretakers who instead of looking after buildings and stuff are called also to look after the spiritual temples and treasures too: We call these treasures ‘believers’. They don’t own the stuff - they merely look after it and do what’s best for what is in their care for the owner (who is of course God).

Entry through a triumphal arch to celebrate victory in Jerusalem
And a quick stop at the Gospel where we have a woman who by virtue of her condition should not have been where she was. In the act of touching Jesus she makes Him unclean too!

But she does touch Him and is healed - that's surely a 'Hallelujah' moment - but she does it because of faith in something that is superstition rather than faith in Jesus: And this is a powerful lesson.

It doesn't matter how you come to Jesus - what matters is that you come and touch the hem of His garment, for in doing so, even for the wrong reasons, healing and restoration are close at hand.

And take a look at the fact that Jesus is bound up in the life of a nobody at the expense of someone who has position, prestige and money. Think about this story the next time you, or someone in your church, puts out the 'reserved' stickers for the elite and sends the Church to the seats nearer the back.

Do you, or your church, show partiality or favouritism?

The Collect
Gracious Father, by the obedience of Jesus you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will,  that we may find all things restored in Him, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

2 Samuel 1.1, 17-27        (NIV)
After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

'A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel. How the mighty have fallen! 
“Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice. “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul - no longer rubbed with oil. “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied. Saul and Jonathan - in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold. “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. “How the mighty have fallen!
The weapons of war have perished!'

1 Corinthians 4. 9-17        (NLT)
I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world - to people and angels alike. 
Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! 
We are weak, but you are so powerful! 
You are honoured, but we are ridiculed. 
Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm.
We are often beaten and have no home. 
We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. 
We bless those who curse us. 
We are patient with those who abuse us.
We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash - right up to the present moment

I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. So I urge you to imitate me. That’s why I have sent Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you of how I follow Christ Jesus, just as I teach in all the churches wherever I go.

Mark. 5.21-43        (NIV)
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.      

For today's sermon - Click HERE

The Post Communion Prayer
Eternal God, comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken, you have fed us at the table of life and hope: teach us the ways of gentleness and peace, that all the world may acknowledge the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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